How to Enjoy a Museum Trip
Frozen in Time: That is how I look at original paintings I have viewed.
My sons and friends think I am nuts when we visit museums. I do go nuts when I see a famous painter’s works. Yes they are beautiful. Beyond that, I really go nuts because I can see in person, up close and personal, how those artists have “touched” that canvas many years before.
Not long ago I made a poor museum guard a bit nervous when I visited the New York Metropolitan Museum. He felt I was too close to a painting by Monet. I suppose I probably was. I just couldn’t help myself!! I wasn’t going to touch it. I just wanted to gaze on the brushstrokes shown in the build up of paint.
Monet is one of my all time favorite artists. To see Monet’s original paintings and look at those brush strokes, feels like I am reaching back in time and looking upon him. He placed that paint with his unique pressure, causing that unique layer of paint that hardened and is now forever there. He left his “footprint”. And now I can, YEARS later, gaze on that “footprint” that came from his brain, down to his finger muscles, to his brush and was laid on that canvas. To me, that is so magical!!!
There is a name for this thick layering of paint and leaving the brushstrokes or paint knife marks visible, it is called Impasto. You can see this style used in Van Gogh’s paintings. Look at how deep the strokes are. They look like finger-painting! What I see is not an artistic technique. I see where his fingers touched this canvas that I now gaze upon. I am thankful to him and Monet for letting us see those frozen in time waves of paint.
I also enjoy the portraits from the 17th Century. I have always been in awe at how realistic they look. I saw this painting by Michael Sweerts in person at the Wadsworth Anthenium Museum in Hartford, CT.
What drew me in right away was how the eyes actually looked moist! The skin is dry, but the eyes are watering. You can’t feel that detail from a photograph of the painting. In person, you see the depth of the features and it does cause an emotional response. You just want to reach out and dab your finger on that face because you are sure you will feel warm skin. (And no, I did not. Tempted? Yes)
Many people think art galleries and museums are boring. The trick is just a little preparation and not to go alone. Take a few minutes to find a resource before or when you get there to give you an idea of the backstory of the paintings.
The best museum trips I had were when the docent or a well-educated friend shared quirky or heroic tales attached to the artifacts/paintings. And when the real stories are done, it can be just as much fun to let your imagination run wild and come up with an alternative story behind the painting based on your emotions or personal experiences.
My last museum trip was with friends who have way more art history background than me. They filled me in on who the artists were and the believed symbolism. Then we got silly and started to create a new story that went from painting to painting. It was one of my most enjoyable visits. And an interesting way to spark creative writing ideas.
This preparing ahead of time is real important if you want to take your children along, which you should, and often. A friend of mine is an elementary school Art Teacher. We would think most kids would be bored looking at old paintings. Hers are not. The key reason is because she does what I suggested above for adults, gives them a simple introduction to the artist and the stories behind his/her works. She then prepares fun assignments to do while there. The children go to the museum with that backstory and are eager to find the original paintings. While they are there, they are better behaved and engaged. Something we parents really like. Most importantly the children will pay attention to the paintings, and get more out of the trip.
That is what art is all about. Enjoyment. The Artist did have a specific idea to express once the painting was finished. They also knew that idea may not be what you feel when you look upon it and that is fine. The key idea is to make you feel something. That his/her art had an impact on you in some way.
Yes, you could enjoy the painting on-line or in a book. The Met does have a website as do many other museums that you can search. Here are the links for the above Van Gogh and Monet paintings:
You can make out the brush strokes a little…
If you want to really “feel” them, you have to see them in person. To stand before them and have the eyes gaze back at you, or have to move your head right to left to take in the whole landscape, or to see the brushstrokes inches from your face that were laid down hundreds of years ago. THAT, my friends, is a wonderful, moving experience. Please do not pass up the chance to expand your soul and inspire your inner artist or writer. Visit an art museum soon!